Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail: Part Three - The New Beginning, Again

Peter Parker: Spider-Man (Vol.2) #1 by Mackie / Romita Jr. / Hanna

So far, so mediocre. Howard Mackie's first issue of post-reboot Amazing Spider-Man was hardly a disaster, but failed to entirely capture the imagination. On his first issue of sister title Peter Parker: Spider-Man, Mackie teams up with John Romita Jr, the pair having recently joined forces on the titles successful first volume.

The first page sees Peter Parker standing, somewhat nervously over the body of a policeman, camera in the hand. Not an entirely thrilling way to start the issue, particularly given the promise of an interesting new career in the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man. It turns out that Peter is taking pictures of the new Spider-Man, who is clashing with a group of armored heavies calling themselves 'The Agents of Anarchy'. The group manage to break out a colleague of theirs known as 'The Ranger' from a nearby police van, and he promptly exits, with the new Spider-Man doing the same, albeit somewhat less gracefully. The scene is very brief, but it is mildly interesting to see Peter Parker taking pictures of someone else as Spider-Man. Mackie seems to be setting Spider-Man up as a bit of a klutz, and once again 'he' isn't shown to be much use at all. Mackie's dialogue is decent, apart from the few lines that the Ranger gets - they are all horribly hackneyed. Towards the end of the scene a Police Officer describes Peter as a 'kid' the second reference in two issues to his youth. It comes across as very forced and unnecessary, but isn't a major issue yet.

The scene shifts to the Daily Bugle, in a scene presumably intended to remind readers that everything is as it used to be. Jonah Jameson is on top form, actually rewriting Betty Brant's story to show the new webslinger in a bad light. Jameson's portrayal doesn't bother me as much as Aunt May's reversion to type in Amazing Spider-Man #1 - he does after all tend to be defined by his hatred for Spider-Man - but in context this seems to represent something of a worrying trend towards ignoring character development. The scene doesn't really accomplish anything apart from introducing Senator Stewart Ward, but it is good to see the Daily Bugle cast showing up. Peter and Betty also appear to be on good terms, a development that I have always liked.

The next scene is a brief interlude, as Stewart Ward is bombarded in his hotel room by spooky otherwordly messages, that appear to be reminding him of some past misdemeanor. It all comes across as a little to vague and wishy-washy to be immediately compelling, particularly given that we have barely been introduced to Ward as a character. The scene would have had more impact if he already had a strong presence in the stories, and ultimately comes across as a cheap way of making him an important character.

After a page of groan-inducing interaction between Peter and Aunt May, Mackie brings us over to JFK International airport, where MJ is returning from a modelling gig a few days early. Jill Stacy has joined Peter, which at this stage is a welcome move. Introducing Gwen Stacy's relatives was an inspired move on Mackie's part - they were an interesting addition to the pre-reboot supporting cast. MJ and Peter's reunion is fairly touching, if a little hammy, and is followed by Stewart Ward entering the scene, amid a wealth of publicity. Ward is promptly attacked by the Ranger, and the new Spider-Man enters the scene a page later, prompting a bit of obligatory soul searching from Peter. It is obviously nice to see him conflicted as to whether he should be helping out or not, but it seems slightly unbelievable that he would stand by and watch. Much of the tension is also alleviated by the knowledge that he will be Spider-Man again. It's easy to forget that he was a civillian just a couple of years earlier, when Ben Reilly was Spider-Man, so the development isn't that original, although the fact that he doesn't know who this Spider-Man is does put a unique spin on the idea. Spider-Man and the Ranger tussle for a few pages, and once again Spider-Man is defeated. It is realistic that the new Spider-Man would be somewhat less experienced, but it seems like Mackie is laying it on a little thick. The Ranger is after Stewart Ward for as yet unknown reasons, and keeps reminding him of 'the monster that he really is'. Once again, it isn't very engaging, particularly as there are no real clues yet as to 'what' exactly Ward is. As the Ranger is bearing down on his prey, Peter Parker enters the scene and lays a punch on him, serving as a distraction to allow Spider-Man to attack him from behind. He really unloads on the villain, hitting him several times until he is lying on the floor, before leaving. Peter remarks that he is 'like an embarrassed kid lashing out at a bully'. The issue ends with the Ranger being captured and Peter resolving to find out more about the connection between Ward and the Ranger.

Once again, this issue isn't a disaster - it is just a little dull. There are no strong emotional moments and only very basic characterisation. Mackie has a decent handle on Peter's voice and general character, but this should really be the minimum requirement for a Spider-Man writer, and it is frustrating seeing him not being in costume. The new Spider-Man is not particularly interesting as a character. Very few clues have been given as to 'his' true identity, and although seeing him lash out at the Ranger was pretty cool, the mystery around him seems a little forced.  The Ranger is simply a dull villain, boasting a bland design and fairly uninteresting powers. He isn't an awful choice, but more thought should have been given to the first villain after the title's reboot, particularly as he is a new character. His dialogue is atrocious throughout, and although it is implied that his intentions are more noble than a typical villain, the idea is half baked. John Romita's art lacks the mass appeal of John Byrne's, but his style has become synonymous with Spider-Man and he and Mackie seem to work well together. His action sequences carry a bit more weight than Byrne's, and overall there is little to choose from between the two artists. Both are solid choices for the relaunched titles.

This was slightly better than Amazing Spider-Man #1, but not by much. The art is solid, Mackie's script is slightly better and Aunt May doesn't grate quite as much. There is still little weight behind the story though, this feels like an average Spider-Man yarn rather than the event that a new #1 should be. The Ranger is an uninspired villain and the Stewart Ward subplot gets off to a relatively bland start. This is decent work from all concerned, but a minor failure as a first issue.


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